How Ulysses S. Grant got the nickname “Unconditional Assignment Grant”

The capture of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February 1862 was the Union’s first major American Civil War victory, paving the way for the heart of Confederacy. Fort Donelson also marked a turning point in Ulysses S. Grant’s career, whose steadfastness and determination during battle, including his refusal to accept anything less than a complete and utter Confederate surrender, l ‘catapulted to glory.

Much of Grant’s youth had been a failure

Hiram Ulysses Grant (he became known as Ulysses S. Grant due to an error in his letter of recommendation from West Point) graduated from West Point in 1843, an indifferent student ranked 21 out of 39 students. Despite the early successes of the Mexican-American War, Grant spent years in desolate military outposts (where his loneliness led to the consumption of alcohol that would damage his reputation). He suffered a series of financial failures when speculative trading ventures failed, and life after the military turned out not to be better, as Grant failed as a farmer and struggled to pay off his debts as a farmer. as a partner in the family-owned leather goods business in Galena, Illinois.

The Civil War came just at the right time for Grant

After the outbreak of war in April 1861, Grant eagerly enlisted, assuming command of a regiment of Illinois volunteers. His first success came later that year when he captured Paducah, Kentucky. He was promoted brigadier general in July 1861 and, in early 1862, began to move closer to two Confederate strongholds in western Tennessee. On February 6, Fort Henry, located on the Tennessee River, surrendered before a full-scale assault led by Grant and US Navy Officer Andrew Hull Foote was launched.

Grant then turned his attention to the larger Fort Donelson on the nearby Cumberland River, a key gateway to the Western Theater guarded by 16,000 Confederate troops. By February 13, Grant’s 25,000 men surrounded the fort, with additional naval support. Fighting continued, with naval bombardment weakening the fort’s defenses, followed by a Confederate counterattack that nearly broke Grant’s lines.

The victory came after the fort’s commander, Brigadier General John B. Floyd, withdrew his forces, rather than putting pressure on Grant’s troops. Realizing their situation was dire, Floyd handed over his command to General Simon Bolivar Buckner, and he and other Confederate officers, including Nathan Bedford Forrest, escaped, leaving Buckner to coordinate a surrender with Grant.

A scene from the Battle of Fort Donelson

Buckner had every reason to expect Grant to accept a negotiated surrender

Not only was this standard military tradition of the time, the two had known each other for decades. They attended West Point at the same time and had served together in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War. When Grant was struggling in his post-Army and pre-Civil War days, Buckner had already loaned him money for a particularly weak period of Grant’s life.

To Buckner’s shock, Grant refused to negotiate. On February 16, he sent a legendary response:

Sir: Your proposal for an armistice and the appointment of commissioners to settle the terms of the capitulation has just been received. No condition other than an unconditional and immediate discount can be accepted. I suggest we move on immediately to your business.

However, when the two finally met for the first of several days of meetings, Grant’s dictate of “unconditional surrender” softened considerably. As Buckner and his men became prisoners of war, Confederate soldiers were allowed to keep their belongings, and commissioned officers kept their rifles and swords (an unusual allowance). Grant supplies rations to Buckner’s desperately starving troops and allows wounded Confederates to be treated at Union hospitals in Kentucky. He allegedly even tried to repay Buckner for his long-standing loan, although Bruckner bluntly turned it down.

Despite pressure from his own staff and officers, Grant did not insist on a formal surrender ceremony, both wanting to protect soldiers on both sides from the harsh winter weather and not wanting to embarrass Buckner and his men, stating ” We have the fort, the men, the guns. Why should we go through vain forms and mortify and hurt the minds of brave men, who, after all, are our own countrymen? “

Grant’s victory at Fort Donelson made him a legend

The North, desperate for a victory, immediately grabbed Grant. The newspapers announced his success, dubbing him Grant “Unconditional Reddition”. Accounts of Grant calmly smoking a cigar in his meetings with Buckner led thousands of grateful Northerners to send them as gifts – with the unintended consequence of aggravating tobacco addiction which led to his fatal throat cancer. Mark Twain was so fascinated by Grant that he would have taken his letter to Buckner with him for the rest of his life. The two went on to become close friends, and Twain published Grant’s best-selling memoir, which provided some desperately needed financial cushion for Grant’s family.

More importantly, Fort Donelson put Grant on the radar of President Abraham Lincoln, who also desperately needed both victories and the capable and determined officers who could provide them. Grant was quickly promoted to the rank of Major General of Volunteers. When Grant faltered on the first day of the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, Lincoln was pressured to withdraw from his command. He refused, saying, “I can’t spare this man. He fights. “Grant vindicated Lincoln the next day, with a bloody victory. It was a pattern that would repeat itself for the remainder of the war, as Grant’s shocking tally of victories earned him a new reputation, that of” Butcher”.

Grant would later capture two other Confederate armies

In July 1863, with the Battle of Gettysburg raging in the east, Grant captured the main Confederate port of Vicksburg, Mississippi, after a 47-day siege. His counterpart, Lt. Gen. John Pemberton, surrendered on July 4, rightly hoping he could get sympathetic terms from Grant on America’s Independence Day. Although Grant captured 30,000 Confederate soldiers, he negotiated the parole of many of them, some of whom returned to fight for the South. Vicksburg, however, gave the Union full control of the Mississippi River and cut Confederacy in two.

And, most importantly, after becoming leader of the Union Army, Grant accepted the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia from Robert E. Lee to Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, marking the end of the main fighting. from the Civil War. As at Fort Donelson, Grant proved to be a magnanimous victor, allowing Lee and his men to conserve their weapons, horses, and mules, and return home to their families, while again providing food for the hungry Southern troops. When Grant’s soldiers began an impromptu celebration as Lee walked away, Grant immediately stopped him, later recalling, “The Confederates were now our countrymen and we didn’t want to celebrate their downfall. “

Grant’s enemies at Fort Donelson gave him the ultimate compliment

After his controversial and scandalous two terms as president, Grant retired to New York, where he died in July 1885, at the age of 63. Among its bearers were several Union generals who had fought closely alongside him during the war, including William Tecumseh Sherman. and Philip Sheridan. Perhaps more surprising were two former Confederate generals who also served as honorary porters, Joseph E. Johnston and Simon Bolivar Buckner, whose surrender to Grant 23 years earlier marked a key turning point in the Civil War.


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